What became of the needle-spiking scares of 2021 and 2022? Neither a crime wave nor a hoax, it turns out. Veronique Campion-Vincent considers, with meticulous context, the overlooked problem of ostention (life imitates legend) and “pure … aimless, aggressive behavior” – a reality that always seems to be in our analytical blindspot. In the most recent issue of LITERATURA LUDOWA — Journal of Folklore and Popular Culture. Open pdf at: https://doi.org/10.12775/LL.3.2022.004 #sociology #folklore #criminology
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Is self-storage at a saturation point? Probably not.
October 18, 2022
This blog post is part of an occasional post on the topic of self-storage in America, part of my larger research project in progress – PD
As the Coronavirus pandemic first threatened, and then failed to negatively impact the self-storage industry, a cyclical concern about oversupply re-emerged in the business publications. Continued acquisition and construction in the sector worried some analysts, who at this point simply bring up potential oversupply as a theoretical risk – something you feel obliged to mention in a SWOT report or presentation to investors. Surely there is some level of supply that is adequate? Some X number of storage units that will demonstrate a saturated market? Logically, yes, but we haven’t found it yet in the United States.
Demand continues to outpace supply in most parts of the country. In the relatively rural area that I live in, neighbors on social media complain about not being able to rent a storage unit. And I’ve counted about 10-12 facilities of various sizes in roughly a 25-mile radius. Storage facilities don’t aim for 100% occupancy, as it leaves them little flexibility. Nonetheless, nationally, the norm is well above 80% and usually more like 90%. Add to that the fact that most facilities’ breakeven point is at about 60-65% occupancy, and a picture begins to emerge of a sector that has to really try hard to screw up in order to not make money. This is true both of mom-and-pop stores, who see relatively little overhead, and the ones owned or managed by large REITs, who generally return double-digit gains each year to investors. However, the perspective of the locally owned facility and the big national firms are different. Investor-run enterprises are concerned that if a facility’s occupancy is too high, it isn’t charging high enough rent on each unit. Coming from the perspective of investments spread out over literally tens of thousands of facilities, the ability to raise rents – even by small amounts each month – is central.
But mom and pops may not see it this way. First, many local concerns have built units as an adjunct to other enterprises on land they have already acquired. The books-balancing equation, combined with limited oversight staff, is thus much simpler. Plus, particularly in rural areas, personal trust is valuable. Potential customers in more wide-open areas have more options to simply NOT rent a unit or remove their stuff to a neighbor’s garage or shed if needed. Suggestions by self-storage advisor publications to continually raise rents, even by small amounts, once occupancy reaches a certain level, is less useful advice to the small, independent facility.
Nationally, renters continue to pursue storage. People are finding more incentive to rent units for themselves, not less. What’s behind this? Although we can tell some things about demand from the newer kinds of storage unit use emerging (microenterprise, workshops, pop-up retail, music studios, etc.), what makes potential residential users different from even a few decades ago? That is to say, what makes storage so attractive a solution, even though it is costly?
A straightforward answer is their sheer availability and accessibility. They are costly, but they circumvent other problems. While self-storage marketing continues to focus on the needs of those experiencing the 4Ds – dislocation, downsizing, divorce, and death — these facilities have, more recently, become attractive to consumers for adjacent reasons. Temporary, amidst-a-move storage becomes longer-term storage. Inter-generational conflict about the disposition of furniture and other stowaway goods is eased by a storage unit rental. A unit first rented to house a motorcycle is large enough to accommodate some excess items from the house, and then maintenance of the rental for that purpose continues. Commercial uses have, in turn, communicated the potential creative uses available to the non-commercial renter, such as: Santa’s closets, man caves, rehearsal spaces, and craft spaces. So once the niche expanded for more practical reasons, it quickly became a multi-solution space that people thought of in comparison to a number of other options. Alternatives – that is, what we would do with extra stuff if storage units weren’t available include: stowing things at home, stowing things with another household, selling or giving away items, and trashing them. Storage units’ ubiquity enables us to set aside, defer, or bypass these options. Keep in mind that these alternatives, which most people still use to some extent, engender significant emotional reckoning and a series on ongoing interpersonal negotiations. A ten-by-ten unit, on the other hand, has little to say back to you.
Slides from ESS 2019: paper – Decluttering and Its Discontents
Much like the other attendees and presenters at the 89th Annual Meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society in Boston (March 14-17), I had a little set of slides to go with my paper, but technology in the meeting section of the hotel was spotty. So we improvised, gathering around the digital hearth (my rickety laptop) when we couldn’t get the projector to talk to any devices. This paper is part of my larger project on self-storage in the US. A summary: from Paper Session 322: Status and Consumption. US national publications fielded a spate of anti-decluttering, first-person essays in the past two years, preoccupied with the problem of “clutter shaming.” There’s very little work in sociology in the US on stuff management. Self-help literature, paradoxically, advises individual-level management techniques but treats it as a social problem. Growth of the self-storage industry is often cited. Self-storage industry’s marketing materials (to potential customers and investors) have increasingly picked up on similar defensive themes about the too-much-stuff problem. It tries to enlist academic psychology in the process, awkwardly.
E-book sale at Palgrave, now through Cyber Monday
“Alcohol is the number-one date rape drug”: a phrase that tries to be all things to all people. It doesn’t clarify much.
More about this in chapter 8 of my book Drink Spiking & Predatory Drugging: A Modern History.
The E-book is only 15 $/€/£ today (11/23) through CyberMonday,
The Life and Times of the term “Date Rape”
A lot of people are wondering about the origins of the weird, one-size-fits-too-little term “date rape.” I got a good sense of where it came from when I was researching my book, Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2016.
While it is a confusing and maybe not so useful term, (and one that has been mangled beyond all recognition by the very misleading phrase “date rape drugs,”) the original coiners of the term, in the mid-1980s, meant well. They were trying to focus more attention on the ordinary-life occurrence of rape, and away from the image that many people had from media images of stranger rapes. It was at this time that we learned how common acquaintance rapes were on college campuses.
Below are some excerpts from my book (pages 138-140) for a little context:
The popularity of the term “date rape” no doubt stemmed from the need to shift the imagined problem away from the stranger lurking in the shadows, and toward the much more common acquaintance. In many non-stranger cases, the assailant is someone who the victim was socializing with (date, friend, classmate, fellow partygoer) when the assault took place, either by force, threat, or lack of ability to consent. [….]
The term “date rape” emerged alongside a highly noted study by Mary Koss and her colleagues, whose results were published in both Ms. Magazine and peer-reviewed journals. It was a large, multi-campus survey that found that 15.4% of college women had experienced an assault that met the legal definition of rape since age 14; another 12.4% had experienced an attempt at this type of assault (attempts are also felonies). Forty-two percent had never disclosed the assault to anyone. Eight percent of college men admitted to engaging in acts that met the legal definition of rape or sexual assault.
Immediately, some confusion emerged among both advocates and critics: some erroneously thought that this meant that one in four college women had been assaulted while in college. Others did not realize that respondents had described incidents to the interviewers, and then the interviewers categorized the incident as an assault, using legal definitions.
Some critics seemed to object to researchers making these decisions, but also seemed to object to women themselves calling something “rape.” Subsequent surveys found similar numbers from year to year, so it is unlikely that the methodology was faulty. [Alexandra] Neame’s review (2004) of this period of backlash points out that as sound social science, the research has not been challenged.
Most of the backlash, however, was a reaction to the impact of the research in the broader culture. [….] In the long run, though, the activism and research of the 1990s did succeed in changing perceptions of the typical rape.
It appears that at a certain point, though, the gains associated with a more thorough understanding of the commonality of sexual assault among non-strangers peaked and then stalled. Perhaps too many assumed that once we all knew that this was the more common circumstance than the man jumping out of the bushes, then we would see greater consequences for sexual assailants. But instead, since the 1990s, it appears that neither reporting rates (the likelihood that a victim will report an assault to the police) nor conviction rates have systematically improved. In some ways, perhaps caution was warranted in this matter. Given what we already knew about the circumstances under which women were more likely to report sexual assault to the police (by a stranger, if there were other physical injuries, if the assailant used a weapon), the likelihood that non-stranger rape reporting would increase drastically was low to begin with. Still, the almost complete lack of improvement in reporting is troubling.
The social consequences of reporting have remained high, and now go beyond stigma, minimizing, and disbelief. The digital age poses new kinds of threats to assault victims who come forward – harassment, threats, and doxing from strangers. It’s not surprising that reporting of rape and sexual assault remain low. But the secrecy fostered by a low-reporting situation also leads to all kinds of second-guessing and misinformation.
References and Links
M.P. Koss, C.A. Gidycz, N. Wisniewski, “The scope of rape: Incidence and prevalence of sexual aggression and victimization in a national sample of higher education students,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 1987, 162–170.
Alexandra Neame, “Revisiting America’s ‘date rape’ controversy,” Family Matters, 68, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Winter 2004.
Lynn Langton and Sofi Sinozich, Rape and Sexual Assault Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2014. http://bit.ly/2PMNW3C
Caroline Heldman and Baillee Brown, “A Brief History of Sexual Violence Activism in the U.S.” Ms. Magazine Blog, August 8, 2014, http://msmagazine.com/blog/2014/08/08/a-brief-history-of-sexual-violence-activism-in-the-u-s/
Work in Progress – Ten by Ten, Climate Controlled: An Exploration of the Self-Storage Industry in America
The Cosby conviction avoided a common pitfall – illicit drug mystique
In my previous post about the role of drug testimony in the Cosby trial, I noted that the skepticism on both sides about the effects of diphenhydramine (commonly sold in North America as Benadryl) was unwarranted and was contributing to a kind of unhelpful illicit drug mystique that hovers around allegations of predatory drugging. Given the storied length of time between the incident (2004) and the first criminal trial (2017), it should have been obvious from the beginning that there would probably never be any certainty about what, exactly, Bill Cosby handed Andrea Constand that evening to help her relax.
In the end, as it should have been, the path to conviction was simpler: the deposition and Cosby’s own words about how he deployed methaqualone (Quaaludes) during his interactions with women. Even if his intended inference was that “back then” a great deal of drug-taking was consensual, and therefore the pills flowed like candy, this does in no way erase the consent and capacity issue. In fact, he said in the deposition that he did not take the drugs himself, essentially implying that he sought tactical advantage through chemicals. This theme permeated the criminal complaint filed in 2015.
I thought once Judge O’Neill permitted the deposition material in the current trial, the Cosby legal team might persist with what I think of – and I have seen this before in serial drugging assault cases – as the “demimonde defense.” The idea is that the accused and the alleged victims were involved in the same subculture that sanctioned recreational drug use, excess drinking and multiple sexual encounters. Therefore, it is often implied – and this has to be just shadow-sketched, not fully spelled out – that everyone involved should have known what to expect, that norms and boundaries are present but not conventional, and that the accused was a peer participant rather than a criminal predator or exploiter. The short hand in this case has been something like: well, it was the 70s and these were Hollywood people, or aspired to be.
But it’s not the 70s, and Andrea Constand was a child then. Even if one were to countenance such arguments to counter the testimony of prosecution witnesses brought in to build an argument that Cosby had engaged in a distinct pattern of criminal behavior dating back decades, Constand was certainly no part of such a demimonde. The defense veered away from it, and instead tried to raise some doubt about when the alleged incident occurred, which also had the potential advantage of throwing the statute of limitations into question.
Indeed, by day 8 of the trial, defense attorney Becky James affirmed the irrelevance of Quaaludes use in the 1970s, as it was clear that it cast a shadow over the specifics of the drug issue in the current matter of Constand’s testimony, and wasn’t helping Cosby at all. Constand reported feelings of weakness, disorientation, and a sense of paralysis after taking the tablets. Cosby says he gave her Benadryl. Obviously, Cosby intended this to be exculpating. Unfortunately, many people, including the press, seem to also think of diphenhydramine as a cuddly little antihistamine that couldn’t possibly produce the same effects as a now off-market legendary tranquilizer like Quaalude. Even the defense’s expert, Dr. Harry Milman, insisted that Benadryl wouldn’t have those effects, and that government regulators would have dealt with the drug more harshly if it did. It seems that Dr. Milman was drawing upon a rather a quick and apparently not very successful Google search.
But Cosby need not have given Constand methaqualone, or any specific CNS depressant, to get the desired incapacitated effect. Enough Benadryl would in fact do that – as would any other number of anti-anxiety or insomnia medications – if given in heavy doses. And the prosecution witness, Dr. Timothy P. Rohrig, explained this on the stand. Jon Hurdle of the New York Times reported that
Under direct questioning from M. Stewart Ryan, an assistant district attorney, Dr. Rohrig said Ms. Constand’s testimony that she became disoriented and lost the use of her arms and legs matched the effects of diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl.
Dr. Rohrig said the effects include sleepiness, blurry vision and dry mouth. “Benadryl will do that, plus a hangover effect,” he said. “All the symptoms and the timing are consistent with the ingestion of diphenhydramine.”
Dr. Rohrig said diphenhydramine has been used in numerous cases of “drug-facilitated sexual assault.” He said the effects of Benadryl would take 15-30 minutes to begin, and would reach their peak in one to two hours. The drug has been produced in round, blue pills, like the ones Ms. Constand said she took, but has also been available in oblong or oval shapes, Dr. Rohrig said.
Rohrig’s job was to explain how this drug can be (and has been) used in incapacitating assaults, but it should also remind us that in a world of pharma-ubiquity, no cleverness or illicit market prowess is needed engage in this kind of predation. Broken trust and opportunism come first. Any number of readily available substances – let’s not forget alcohol — can assist, but they can’t plan, plot, assault or exploit on their own.
Cosby was found guilty; his lawyers say they expect to appeal the conviction. — May 2018
Get my book, Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History for only $9.99 as an e-book (all formats) on May 17, 2018 as part of Palgrave’s Daily Deal.
Backhanded Victim Blame and the Current Drugging Scare: excerpts
In the book, Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History, I make the argument that exaggeration of the date rape drugs threat (among students, particularly, but not limited to them) has a pernicious effect on voluntarily intoxicated victims of violence and exploitation.
Situations in which drugging explanations are insisted upon when both tests and circumstances suggest otherwise has the dual negative effect of sidelining claims about the sexual assault itself, and contributing to a basically melodramatic view of the problem. Left out in the cold, then, are all the more mundane experiences that most assaulted women recognize as their own. (p 248)
One of the things I spent some time mulling over was how to present the argument in such a way that didn’t fall into the “this problem is a distraction from that problem” trap. Distraction arguments, after all, can be lazy: take any two things happening at the same time and say that one is a distraction from the other. Obviously, surreptitious drink spiking followed by rape does happen, and I detail some of these in the book. But in the case of this drug scare, the relationship between the roofie obsession and the desire to escape any talk about voluntary alcohol consumption – for fear of victim blaming – is fairly stark and very direct, and I wasn’t the first, by far, to notice it:
… Amanda Hess sarcastically called out the “date rape drugs industrial complex” as fomenting fear about a relatively rare occurrence and trying to shift talk about rape back to the lurking stranger…. Hess noted the face-saving qualities of the formulation: “Now, society is ready to accept that a rape victim is still a rape victim if she goes out to a bar with her girlfriends and has a few drinks—as long as her intoxication is capped off with a surprise roofie.” It’s basically a form of victim-blaming that manages to look like victim sympathy at first. Many opinion leaders and policy makers are squeamish about asserting the simple right of intoxicated people (women in particular) to not be assaulted, no matter how they got that way. (p. 142-143)
Hess mentioned some research I’d done with Adam Burgess and Sarah E.H. Moore on the topic. But she formulated the problem so concisely that it advanced my thinking about the topic greatly when I went to write the whole book. And then I began to find evidence of this backhanded victim blame everywhere. Tennis star Serena Williams, opining in 2013 about the Steubenville rape case, infamously exemplified the attitude in a Rolling Stone interview:
“I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.” (Williams, quoted in RS, 6.18.13)
Then that’s different: it’s “real rape.” The fear women have of blame for their own victimization is not irrational; it is grounded in the harsh judgment of intoxicated victims. Williams was roundly criticized for these remarks, and she did eventually walk them back. But this was just a celebrity version of a widespread but often unacknowledged attitude, that characterizes not only victim blamers but, more troublingly, people who claim to be victim defenders, including campus anti-rape activists, journalists, district attorneys, and legislators.
To expect a person who has been assaulted while drunk or high to take on the additional burden of pretending they were “plied” with drugs or alcohol as the only route to the legitimacy of their experience of violence is doubly burdensome. It denies the larger reality of drug and alcohol use across the world as a route to pleasure-seeking and sociability. It favors only the sober victim, the old-school innocent victim against whom all the rest are measured. (261)
New Excerpt: What’s in your Halloween Cache?
Here’s an excerpt from the book, Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History, about the attractions of drug scarelore, especially involuntary drug ingestion as a “problem solver” for frightened parents. It almost always rears its head around Halloween, but never really goes away completely. – PD
Happy Halloween from Points!
Got drug scarelore? Share it with the writers and readers of the POINTS blog.
Points: short & insightful writing about the long & complex history of drugs & alcohol
Editor’s Note: We at Points wish all our celebrating readers a happy Halloween! Before you head out trick-or-treating, check out this post from last year’s holiday season on “laced” candy and other drug myths. It also contains a prediction, proven correct in last year’s election, that Florida voters would pass a constitutional amendment allowing for medical marijuana.
Beware… or don’t.
This year, medical marijuana is on the ballot in my home state of Florida, and it’s likely to pass: the latest statewide poll shows 77 percent of Floridians support the proposed constitutional amendment.
But the remaining 33 percent aren’t taking this lying down. On Monday, some county sheriffs held a press conference ostensibly on Halloween safety. Instead, surrounded by costumed children for full effect, they warned citizens about the supposed risk of marijuana edibles being passed out to unsuspecting youth.
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